MANY Singaporean children re-entering the education system in their home country after living for a time in Hong Kong, face significant changes in lifestyle, language and culture. But if the Singapore International School has served its main purpose - to teach the children of expatriates working in Hong Kong what students their age in Singapore learn - the transition should be smooth. There are significant differences between the education systems of Singapore and Hong Kong, including the curriculum and language used in schools (Singaporeans speak Mandarin as their native language, although English is prevalent on the streets), the social and cultural environment of students, even the food eaten at canteens. The SIS, started in 1991 by the 8,000-member Singapore Association of Hong Kong, not only aimed to simulate the education system in Singapore, but also to familiarise expatriates' children with Singapore life. Apart from adopting the Singapore national curriculum and using English as the medium of instruction, the SIS arranged to send its students home to experience Singapore life first hand. The so-called immersion programme, open to all except pre-preparatory students, involves a two-week stay in Singapore, attending school and being shown the social and cultural side of the country. 'They go during their summer holiday in July and August, when Singapore celebrates its national day,' said programme co-ordinator Madam Lim Soh Lian. 'Some of these children have not been back for four or five years. So you have to get them into the mood, the culture. We take them to the national day parade. 'We get them eating Singapore food, which is very different from anywhere. But, most importantly, we get them immersed into Singapore schools, to experience life as a student there. 'The whole school and working lifestyle is different there. It's more competitive for one thing, in terms of lessons. And their extra-curriculum programme is much different. 'Also, in Singapore, schools function in two sessions, from 7.30 am to noon and then a second session starting at 1.30 pm. We, like most Hong Kong schools, go a full day, from 8.30 am, but the Singapore trip lets the children experience the difference. 'Although both Chinese cities, we are actually quite different. We talk a good deal about the differences in social studies but it's not enough. They need practical experience. 'The children enjoy it and we find many of them ask to stay in Singapore longer than scheduled.' Madam Lim said Singapore's mix of nationalities was the greater of the two cities and the SIS's 70-30 ratio of Singaporean children to other nationalities complemented this. 'We have children from India, Tibet, Japan, Canada, Australia. They basically come for the languages, English and Mandarin,' she said. 'We have a bilingual policy. English is the medium of instruction in all classes other than language, which is in Mandarin. In Hong Kong, the medium of instruction is Cantonese. 'I think the parents of our students, particularly after a time in Hong Kong (and as China emerges) are realising the importance of Mandarin. 'We have a long waiting list for students of other nationalities.' Madam Lim said the SIS had received support from the Singapore and Hong Kong governments. The Singapore Ministry of Education helps put the SIS's students into local schools as part of the immersion programme. The school's enrolment has grown from 207 to more than 700 in the four years since it opened, resulting in its Kennedy Town location becoming too cramped. The Hong Kong Government granted the school its new premises, at Aberdeen, through the Singapore International School Foundation. Teachers say the impressive new building is far more conducive to learning and growing. 'The other premises were so small we were converting into classrooms rooms used for other purposes. 'We now have a maximum of 30 students per class with priority given to Singaporeans,' Madam Lim said.